Cultural Appropriation: What it is, What it is Not, and Why it Matters

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When I first had the idea to start this blog I knew that one of my focuses would be topics that affected me as a member of the Black community in America, among other things, and at the same time balance it with not-so-heavy topics because everyone deserves to smile every once in awhile, despite all the injustices and annoyances in the world. 

So here goes, my very first serious topic, cultural appropriation. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. This is such a loaded topic so we will start by breaking it down. I think we can agree that culture is a culmination of the characteristics and practices of a particular social or ethnic group and that to appropriate means to take for oneself, often without permission. Simply put, cultural appropriation is the theft of what makes a community of people unique.

In my experience, this term has most often been used to describe what mainstream-White society has done to minority or other cultures, such as Native-Americans and Black/African-Americans. We all know that White society stripped both of these communities of their cultures from their very first encounters with them hundreds of years ago. These cultures were not just erased, but many parts were stolen as well. But the usual question for people who just don’t get cultural appropriation is, “How is it happening today?”

In a bit, I’m going to use the example that irks me the most: hair. I have seen so many arguments about how a hairstyle is or is not cultural appropriation that it is clear that mainstream-White society and even minority community members oftentimes completely miss the point. Let me break it down.

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In a World Beyond My Cubicle

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First off, I never would have imaged that two degrees and 30 plus years living my life I would be working from a cubicle. But that is another story, for another day. For now, let’s just chalk it up to me living in one of the most crowded cities in the world where there’s not much real estate in most buildings for even managers to have their own offices, let alone “lowly” contract workers like myself.

Anyway, the other day I was looking up at the ceiling, above my cubicle walls, and I remembered being a small child, laying on the top bunk of my and my sister’s bunk beds. I would stare at the ceiling in the dark and imagine a make believe world, all the characters that lived inside and, most importantly, their stories.

I’m not sure whether it was a way for me to escape – only God knows what I thought I was escaping from – or just that I had a crazy-active imagination. Whatever the reason, I have always made stories and I have always been very “in my head”, thinking about things and trying to figure out why they are the way that they are. It is why as a child I wanted to become a writer and as an adolescent I wanted to study psychology. My sense of justice took me in a slightly different direction, namely, law school. But I have slowly found my way back.

Words are powerful. They can be persuasive, they can cause confusion, they can create joy where there otherwise would be none, and they can demand retribution. Throughout my life words have taken me places. My words have gained me acceptance into spaces I may not have been allowed to enter and they have caused rifts in my interpersonal relationships. My lack of words when I’ve felt especially introspective has brought me to face significant changes in my life; changes that were a catalyst to me struggling to find the right words to decipher what was really going on. Those are the times that writing helped me to find these words and eventually find myself.

Whether I am thinking them, screaming them or writing them down, words have always been there for me. As I go through yet another change in my life, I have come to realize that words are my saving grace and hopefully this blog is the spring to action that I needed to create my own story. There was a reason that that little girl had so many words and ideas floating around in her head. Now, I have the opportunity to turn them outward and as I do I will continue to discover the world around me and my purpose in it.

Social Media (& Black Twitter) – The Gift & The Curse

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As a new blogger (I know I’m super late to the game) I have been realizing that I have to step up my social media skills. Not to say that I don’t usually do social media, because I do. I just miss the days of Facebook, for example, where not everyone and their mom could sign up and it wasn’t such a free for all. Mind you, I’m not one to be elitist about things, especially not something like Facebook but I enjoyed it a lot more when friends were actually friends.

Nowadays, even if you do actually know your Facebook friends in real life, some of these “so called” friends might not be so friendly. We all know of people who use Facebook as a platform to spew their ignorant, often hateful or just plain old judgmental speech. It gets so bad that we end up having to un-friend these people. As a writer, I’m all about free speech but it’s come to a point where I dread having to log on to Facebook, a network that I used to use to keep in touch with friends and family and share with them the current statuses of my life. If I wanted to hear ignorant, hateful speech, I would turn on Fox News and if I wanted to argue with people, I would join a debate Meetup, or better yet, call one of my exes. I wish I could permanently log off of Facebook but alas, it is connected to pretty much every app I use and as intrusive as this may be, it’s pretty damn convenient for log in purposes.

And then there’s these new-ish social media platforms like Snap Chat. Don’t get me started on that one. It looks so fun when other people use it, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. I’m more of an Instagram person. As much as I love words, there’s nothing like a simple yet beautiful or funny picture and a cute caption to go with it – not that I am in any way an expert on captions. I’m more of a “Happy Friday!” captioner.

Anyway, the one social network that I still don’t entirely get but am determined to add to my very small social network repertoire is Twitter. It can be a great way to spread the word about everything from a blog, a movie, or even breaking news. So I was all for it, ready to start tweeting, sharing links and pics, re-tweeting and mentioning. But after following a few of my favorite personalities, bloggers and podcasters, and seeing the hell they get from not only trolls but *gasp* Black Twitter, I began feeling a little intimidated.

Trolls are awful and can’t be helped, I suppose, but Black Twitter is actually something that I used to imagine that I could be a part of, until recently. I will say Black Twitter is very in tune with what is going on in the Twitter-verse (or is it Twitter-sphere?) but they are also always ready to pounce, sometimes without the proper information. It doesn’t help that there probably is no vetting process to becoming a member. I’m pretty sure you just have to identify as Black, have an active Twitter account, and use whatever clever hashtag all the other members are using. I’ve never been one to back down from a good argument but like I said above about Facebook, who wants to be involved in unnecessary Twitter beefs? I just want to promote my blog and put my words out into the universe, not be a part of any drama.

But, at the end of the day, I have decided to forge ahead with my entry on to Twitter because I have to admit that Black Twitter does attack those who definitely need to be attacked, not just the undeserving, and Black Twitter is funny as hell and consistently provides me with laughs.

Here are some examples of Black Twitter moments and hashtags that I’ve enjoyed and also some not so great Black Twitter attacks:

1. I love when Black Twitter gets political: The hashtag #WhichHillary #WhichHillary Trends on Twitter after BLM activist interrupts Clinton fundraiser (Note: this hashtag was used by many on Twitter not just Black Twitter, but it was started by a Black Lives Matter activist and member of Black Twitter)

2. And when it fights for Black feminism and social justice: See New York Times Dubs Shonda Rhimes and Characters the “Angry Black Woman,” Black Twitter Attacks; and the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful #LessClassicallyBeautiful Takes Over Twitter Challenging NYT’s Review of Viola Davis and White Beauty Standards; and the hashtag #SayHerName Twitter Expresses Outrage Over Sandra Bland With #SayHerName and 32 #SayHerName Tweets That Spotlight The Police Brutality Black Women Face, Too

3. I especially love when Black Twitter is just plain old hilarious: People Are Doing #TrapCovers Of Pop Songs And It’s Incredible, #WhitePeopleInvitedToTheCookout Is The Best Thing To Happen To The Internet, Once You See A Little Bit Of #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat You Just Can’t Stop, and Black Twitter Nailed What It Was Like #GrowingUpBlack

4. But we can’t forget when Black Twitter is simultaneously thoughtful while making jokes, a skill in and of itself: The hashtag #CNNBeLike BLACK TWITTER REACTS TO RACIST REPORTING OF OTIS BYRD WITH #CNNBELIKE and the hashtag #AllLionsMatter #AllLionsMatter Parodies the Fact That People Are More Outraged Over Cecil the Dead Lion Than Slain Black People

5. Unfortunately, a thoughtful and funny response can sometimes go wrong: The hashtag #RealBlackPeopleQuestions hashtag was great Black Twitter asks #RealBlackPeopleQuestions after this Buzzfeed Video fail, but then Black Twitter attacked Black Buzzfeed writers who had nothing to do with the video Why Buzzfeed’s Latest Video “Questions Black People Have for Black People” is Out of Pocket

6. And sometimes attacks can be divided, and in some cases both sides can be totally off base – even if only in the delivery of the message: Black women attacked Ayesha Curry and then, surprise surprise, Black men attacked black women for not being more like Ayesha Curry after a Tweet she posted, see Ayesha Curry Ruffled A Few Feathers On Twitter With Commentary On How Women Dress

What I’ve learned about this social media world is just like with so many other things, I’m going to have to take the good with the bad, and most importantly, enjoy the laughs along the way. Oh yeah and I will have to avoid the dreaded #hoteptwitter and Hotep Facebook at all costs. Those who don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky. Just know that if they dare come for me, I’ll be ready – maybe even with my own Femme-inist Black Twitter posse.

 

Hello world!

Hi everyone! I’m so excited about beginning this new journey of becoming a blogger. It has been a long time coming and I can’t wait to see what paths it will lead me on. Most importantly, I hope you all enjoy reading my writing as much as I enjoy writing it. Please take a look at my About page to find out more about where I am going with this blog. I plan to write at least two posts a week, so stay tuned!